The Bible’s description of the false prophet, the two-horned beast, would be surprising enough if it were meant to apply long ago; but since it is meant for our modern age, the description given in Revelation 13:11-17 is evidently meant to amaze and alarm us. This creature is portrayed by Inspiration as more dangerous than any preceding power, more dangerous because more cunningly deceptive. He is pictured as the most consummate impostor and deceiver in all human history. The leopard beast is described as blasphemous and cruel; but the false prophet is spoken of as slick and clever, with the ability to work amazing wonders that appear to be actual miracles for the purpose of inducing everybody to worship the leopard beast. The prediction is that he actually succeeds in this nefarious work and gets all but a few to make a living, breathing image of the leopard beast, and induces all the earth dwellers to worship the first beast and its image. Thus the deadly wound is completely healed. This is why this upstart two-horned beast is called the false prophet.
All this is a religious activity; only in a very secondary sense can it be regarded as political. A prophet of any sort, true or false, is a religious, not a civil, official. Because its entire career is so effective in its deception and seduction, this creature is in reality one of the worst and most dangerous in all prophecy.
Who is it that he is deceiving? The last generation of mankind, supposedly the best educated, the most intelligent and sophisticated of all the race. That it is the last generation is proved by the fact that this false prophet is described as being finally "cast alive" (with its partner, the leopard beast) into the first lake of fire at the second coming of Christ. (Revelation 19:20.)
Several identification marks help us decide that this two-horned beast, the false prophet, must symbolize the democratic Protestantism of the Occidental world, most typically seen in the United States of America.
These four points positively identify this new world power, but they are made from the narrower, national point of view. When we rise to the broader, more universal view, other marks of identification need to be considered.
Hence, because of this intrinsic difference between America in her rise and early career and the other nations represented by the preceding symbols, it follows that in her early days America cannot possibly qualify as one of the series of the seven heads, for these seven heads represent nations under the control of Satan in his work of trying to run the world. Only in its second phase, after it abandons these two guiding principles and begins to speak "as a dragon," does it become like the others, and thus one of the series of the seven heads.
But though there are plenty of signs of apostasy all around us, the official change from the lamblike horns to the dragon voice has not yet occurred. It is still future. Similarly, the mystery of iniquity was already working in Paul’s day; plenty of signs of apostasy were visible by the time of the Council of Nicea; still more were apparent when the capital was moved to Constantinople and the dragon thus gave the bishops his seat and great authority; but the prophecy does not begin to date the career of the leopard beast, No. 5 of the seven heads, until A.D. 538. Neither does the two-horned beast begin to qualify as one of the seven heads until it begins to act like the others in making open war against God and the people of God.
Meantime nearly two centuries have elapsed. Inasmuch as the series of heads must follow one another with no interregnum, No. 6 must have been reigning since 1798, the time of the end, the period of the deadly wound. And this No. 6, as we have seen, must be the beast from the abyss, which gave the death stroke to No. 5 and is presently ruling half the world, with its doctrines and ideology infiltrating and perverting all the rest.
In the early days of the world the Bible dwelt much on the replacement of one nation by another. But in the sight of Heaven the spread of ideas is much more important than the shift of national boundary lines. And since the work of God and its opposition have both become global in extent, the prophecies of the last days ignore national distinctions and deal with the spread of doctrines or ideologies. Hence we should train ourselves to think of the entire world of our day as divided into just three groups: the dragon, the leopard beast, and the false prophet. This threefold division of the world is repeatedly mentioned in the Revelation and in the Spirit of Prophecy. (See The Great Controversy, p. 588.) Such a threefold classification of the world during the time of the end must ignore nationalities and deal with doctrines and ideas.
On this basis, the dragon (here used as synonymous with the beast from the abyss) would be larger and more inclusive than Marxian communism, the leopard beast would include more than the Roman ‘Church, and the false prophet must be larger than the United States, or even larger than apostate Protestantism.
Fundamentally, of course, we know that all three are merely puppets of the devil and all of the seven heads are the human organizations through which he has worked at various periods of human history. We are here considering the situation down near the close of time, after the two-horned beast has become the false prophet and has become the seventh in the series of heads. The prophecy deals chiefly with his cleverness in deceiving the highly educated last generation of mankind. Since its two lamblike horns "are the secret of its power and prosperity," we are obliged to think of his power to deceive as somehow connected with these two horns, either by means of them or in spite of them. But we are led to ask in amazement how this can be. In what possible way can these kindly, tolerant principles of liberty be used to deceive the world to its everlasting ruin?
It is easy to see why the new national example of America has become popular throughout the world. The hope of liberty has a universal appeal, and the spectacular prosperity and success here seen have fired the hopes of uncounted millions across the oceans east and west. When the beast from the abyss invoked the slogan of civil and religious liberty to abolish the Papacy and thus inflict the deadly wound, he overreached himself, for divine Providence has so universally discredited bigotry and intolerance that this wound is still unhealed, and those agencies symbolized by the antichrist, are still prevented from getting back their old power to oppress and destroy.
And when this country changes, with all the world still following, when the lamblike horns change to the voice of the dragon and the American dream becomes a nightmare, the fault will not be in these two principles of civil and religious liberty. The fault will be in fallen human nature, which when left to itself has never in the entire history of the race been able to stand prosperity or liberty, but has always abused and spoiled the best gifts of God.
We need to get back to first principles. Since all the prophetic powers of the last days—the dragon, the beast (or antichrist), and the false prophet-operate on a global scale, as does also the true church of Christ with which they are in deadly conflict, they are necessarily large generalizations; that is, each symbol must represent the total of all the influences and tendencies for which it stands. From God’s point of view this is always what these symbols mean. It could not be otherwise. In the Scriptural prophecies He has tried to represent these totals as concrete objective entities, after the style of kindergarten objects, for the instruction of His people. Most of the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation were shown to the prophet by objective signs; that is, they were "sign-i-fied" to the prophet, as stated in the first verse of the Revelation. We who Live in these last days and read these prophecies have to interpret, or decode, these symbolic pictures as best we can. Usually we find that in their larger meanings they transcend mere nations and represent the various cultural, ideological eras of the world’s history. This is especially true of all the symbols dealing with the time of the end.
Accordingly, it is not difficult to understand why some students of these subjects prefer to think of this false prophet as symbolizing the democratic and scientific age in which the world has been living for more than a century—in other words, that it represents the intellectual and cultural climate of this time of the world in which we are now living. Without question it has had a predominantly Protestant background. From the churches and universities and publishing centers of Germany, Great Britain, and America it has radiated out over most of the world. But along with its genuine light from heaven it has also given to the world a strongly intoxicating wine of "world progress," with the plain religious implication that the traditional millennium will be the next event on the world program, the next stage in human evolution. This is always the background for the modern movements for world peace.
When private individuals entertain wrong ideas about the world’s future, usually not much harm results. But when rulers or influential groups think themselves in partnership with God and undertake to remold the world nearer to their own heart’s desire, instead of their artificial heaven on earth they usually succeed in making a hell on earth for their opponents. Of all the strange ideas that have confused humanity during the centuries, none have worked more ruin and misery than false views about the coming of the Messiah and what He is to do. What a record of blood and devastation they have made!
These false ideas caused the crucifixion of Jesus and all the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem under the Romans. In a certain real sense they laid the foundation of the Catholic Church, with its Crusades, the Inquisition, its wars of religion, its St. Bartholomew, its dragonnades; and a revulsion against these produced the Red Terror of the French Revolution. All the starry-eyed utopian dreams past and present are variant forms of twisted ideas about a coming millennium, and the present obsession about disarmament and world peace stems from the same mistaken notions.
In the days just ahead, when all the powers of earth conspire together to produce their delusive unity and to compel God’s people to conform with the majority, it will be the same evil theory about the reign of the Messiah that will impel the persecutors to their final act of warring against God in the person of His followers.
"Papists, Protestants, and worldlings will alike accept the form of godliness without the power, and they will see in this union a grand movement for the conversion of the world, and the ushering in of the long-expected millennium."—The Great Controversy, pp. 588, 589.
But alas for such false hopes and delusive dreams! Much of the world has already awakened to the stark reality that this is a vain vision; nor can it be long until the preacher of this vision will be denounced as a false prophet. But since this seductive vision has been largely responsible for preventing the healing of the deadly wound, the reaction from this disillusionment may well be the chief cause for finally bringing about the antichrist’s complete recovery.
The account of the two-horned beast, the false prophet, as given in the last half of Revelation 13, deals almost wholly with the amazing wonders which he performs and the way in which he uses these wonders to deceive the world. For my part, I can never read this account without thinking of the scientific marvels of our day and of the way in which these scientific achievements are constantly used to support theories about the origin of the world and the beginning of mankind which are completely contradictory to what is taught in the Bible. It has long been the custom among the students of this prophecy to postpone all these wonders to the future—after the false prophet begins to speak like a dragon. But obviously the deceptions based on the miracles precede the dragon voice and help materially to make this voice effective. James White often complained about some Adventists of his day who were more interested in future truth than in present truth. Certainly one of the most dangerous forms of deception is in being totally blind to God’s prophetic warnings which are fulfilling all around us.
There is, of course, the danger of wrongly interpreting prophecy in advance. But in this case, unless we do understand these prophecies beforehand, they can do us no good, and we may be deceived by some of the clever tricks of the enemy. And we have also been warned against not interpreting some of these prophecies in advance.
"Are we to wait until the fulfillment of the prophecies of the end before we say anything concerning them? Of what value will our words be then? Shall we wait until God’s judgments fall upon the transgressor before we tell him how to avoid them? Where is our faith in the word of God? Must we see things foretold come to pass before we will believe what He has said?"—Testimonies, Vol. 9, p. 20.
It is high time for some Adventists to awake to the meaning of the events now transpiring.
It is self-evident that the change from the lamblike horns to the dragon voice cannot be a sudden one. Although quick changes are characteristic of our age, it seems reasonable that the deceptions practiced by this false prophet in preparing the way for the making of the image of the beast cannot be all in the future. Why should we not expect to see most of them already taking place? And for the dragon voice to become effective, the people of the world must have been already conditioned in mind to listen to it. The world has professedly gone democratic in tote. This is reflected in the prophecy, for it says that the people of the world will be told "that they should make an image to the beast." (Revelation 13:14.) Obviously, the deceptions which prepare the way for this fatal action must be going on around us, and we ought to ask ourselves, What are they? Are we also being deceived by them?
It is these deceptions which make him a false prophet, that is, a false teacher; for the original word carries the idea of teaching or proclaiming, rather than of merely foretelling.
It is plain that the prophecy here is placing the emphasis on the religious aspects of this world power. Protestant America may be the most prominent example of this power; but the symbol of the false prophet is best interpreted as meaning Protestantism as a worldwide power, wherever found or wherever its influence exists. Only by making this false prophet mean modernistic apostate Protestantism, rather than the mere civil aspects of the United States, can we give in Australia, China, Greenland, or Ceylon any worthwhile meaning to the message of the third angel of Revelation 14. This angel, like the first, is to go to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people; and its specific warning is against what the false prophet is doing or is going to do. Since the warning is universal, the power against which the warning is directed must likewise be universal.
No one should express surprise at the statement in The Great Controversy that the two lamblike horns symbolize civil and religious liberty. These two ideals, or principles, chiefly differentiate our age from all that went before. Our modern Occidental age as a whole, instead of the United States alone, is what we see here portrayed under the symbol of the two-horned beast. These principles are kindly, mild, liberal, and seemingly harmless. During the nearly two centuries of their promulgation from America to the rest of the world, they can point to a wonderful record of achievement. Knowledge along all lines has amazingly increased, as the prophecy of Daniel foretold. (Daniel 12:4.) Not alone the unlocking of the mysteries of nature, but the harnessing of her resources for the amelioration of man’s lot, as Bacon used to express it, must be credited to these two principles of liberty, the freedom to think and to do. The infliction of the deadly wound to bigotry and tyranny must also be placed to their credit. Probably about all that distinguishes this time-of-the-end period from all that went before must be credited, under divine Providence, to the practical outworking of these two dynamic ideals, liberty of conscience and self-determination in government.
The prototype of our modern age, the French Revolution, was seemingly harmless and good in its beginnings and earlier phases. Its aim was to restore the rights of man, and it embodied a statement of these rights in written form, sublimely forgetful of how slightly any abstract statements of true principles shape or even materially influence human conduct. With these rights of civil and religious liberty in concrete statement, why did not these utopian materialists and atheists succeed in translating their dream into reality?
Alas, they were human, all too human. And the material at hand with which the leaders had to work in building their new ideal world—the ignorant mobs of Paris and other large cities—were also very human, and for centuries had been held down in superstition and ignorance. And all alike—leaders and followers—became so intoxicated with their unaccustomed freedom that they interpreted liberty as license, completely oblivious of "this one great truth: that true freedom lies within the proscriptions [definite boundaries] of the law of God."—The Great Controversy, p. 285.
These two freedoms gave them power to do as they wished, but opportunity to do as one likes is good only if those who have this power like to do good. And the mobs of the Red Terror were neither good nor wise. They not only set up a nonreligious government, but went to the fanatical extreme of making open war on all religion, trying to outlaw everything sacred or divine. "The law of God was openly set aside by the National Council. And in the Reign of Terror which followed, the working of cause and effect could be seen by all."—ibid., pp. 285, 286.
In a more polite and camouflaged form a similar war upon the Bible is being seen today in the anti-Genesis apostasy, which has spread over the entire world during the past two centuries.
In our modern world, however, we are as yet in only the early stages of the revolution. We are witnessing on every hand the wonderful material results of these two freedoms. These spectacular results have, of course, been timed and planned by divine Providence for the purpose of assisting in the spread of God’s last message of mercy. They are accomplishing this result in a spectacular way, but they have been seized and exploited by the father of lies to make them seem like human development. The bewitching, intoxicating effects of this doctrine of world progress, as experienced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are tersely yet expressively stated in the prophecy as deceiving "them that dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he had power to do." (Revelation 13: 14.) Probably what we have seen may be little more than the beginning.
No one needs to be reminded that there is already a debit side to the account of the two horns. Liberty and knowledge are not intrinsically regenerative or even necessarily good. They are only forms of personal power. Alfred the Great, king of England, said a thousand years ago, "Power is never good unless he be good who has it." Since the great majority of mankind are rebels against their Creator and persist in remaining rebels, an increase of their power can result only in an increase of their rebellion. The Paris mobs of 1793 gave a brief rehearsal of the natural results; another more extensive display of the results of freedom in the hands of Satanled crowds began in Russia after 1917. And the preparations for the final act itself are seen shaping up in the rapid disintegration and demoralization of the only conspicuous example of democratic government which has ever been able to last more than one century. The tyranny of autocrats has often been seen, and is certainly bad enough. But no horror can equal that of frenzied or hysterical anarchy, liberty changed to license.
The visible approach of this beast from the abyss is spoken of in Revelation 17:8, where the anticipation of just such a state of affairs is described as making all the world wonder, because they realize that the beast of intolerance and oppression "was, is not, but is coming." (Moffatt) And the glacierlike advance of this horror of mob psychology and mass hysteria on a national and an international scale helps strongly to make many thoughtful persons feel tolerant toward a strong, centralized authoritarian government, like the Catholic Church, in accord with the remark of the witty Frenchman who declared that he would rather be eaten by one lion than by a thousand rats.
When the caprice of the mob recognizes no Creator above and no code from Sinai as a moral guide, but only the Rousseauistic-Darwinian dogma that man is a developing animal and will become good if only given a chance and made free from all restraints; and when all questions, both civil and religious, are to be decided at the hustings by the vote of the majority, under the hypnotizing spell of clever demagogues, how can the result fail to follow as declared in the prophecy, "He spake as a dragon"? (Revelation 13:11.)
In the broader aspects of the case, as has been stated, this false prophet symbolizes those utopian dreams of a century ago that, by granting everybody liberty to live as he pleases, all the troubles of humanity would be solved. Obviously, this was a suggestion of the father of lies; but it sounded like a new evangel to the people of the Victorian age, both in America and Europe. Complete religious liberty brought about the deadly wound to intolerance, and complete democracy when everywhere established would, they said, automatically bring about the long-hoped-for era of the brotherhood of man and the federation of the world. The young American republic, and to a lesser degree the British overseas dominions, appeared to be objective proofs of this vain vision of inherent world progress. But this false gospel of the two-horned prophet spread rapidly out over the rest of the world. Two world wars, with a third impending, and atomic and hydrogen bombs and guided missiles as the tools, have not yet cured this silly fanaticism.
The fatally seductive and deceiving power of the entire modern environment in which we are obliged to live is vividly stated by the messenger of the Lord:
"The power of Satan now to tempt and deceive is ten-fold greater than it was in the days of the apostles."—Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 2, p. 277.
This means that the deceptive power of the false prophet is ten times as strong and effective as was the power of the Roman dragon. And this helps to explain why the work of the false prophet has been reserved as the last on the divine program. Under this false prophet Satan is doing his utmost; the Lord allows him to do everything he can. When the career of this last deceiver is complete, human probation will have been finished, for the devil has no more tricks to try. He will then have done his worst.
But this utopian dream has served the useful purpose of giving the true church of Christ a rest from persecution. During this period of the deadly wound the church has an opportunity to carry the gospel of the soon-coming kingdom to all the world, as the Master foretold long ago. (Matthew 24:14.) False doctrines on any subject are never harmless. In a world of sin and sinners, even such seemingly harmless ideas as religious and civil liberty can be twisted into agencies of evil. In Eden the fruit of the tree of knowledge was not forbidden because it was poisonous for the body, but because any knowledge gained contrary to a command of God must surely become poison for the soul. When Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom, he had good ambitions; he was planning better social and intellectual opportunities for himself and his family. But freedom and cultural opportunities, like the power spoken of by King Alfred the Great, are only good when those who have them are good. The conditions Lot found in Sodom were only those which everybody wants to attain: "pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness." (Ezekiel 16:49.)
One of the last lessons that the Creator designs to demonstrate before the world and the onlooking universe is that unfettered freedom and wide vistas of opportunity are not unmixed blessings for unregenerate human beings. Of themselves they have no power to cure men of pride or selfishness or sin. Carlyle attributed the origin of the modern democratic world to the invention of printing; and in a measure he was right. Printing and all the subsequent modern wonders which enable men to communicate with one another quickly around the world, bringing knowledge within the reach of all, as a fulfillment of the prediction of Daniel (Daniel 12:4), are resultants of the freedom to think and to do. In the planning of divine wisdom they were essential to prepare the world for the final proclamation of the gospel just before the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
But like all the good gifts of God they can be abused and turned to evil uses. One of the final lessons of human history, as an eternal exhibit before the intelligent universe, is that these two lamblike horns will become tools used by the false prophet for the deception and seduction of mankind in the final crisis of human history, the Armageddon of mankind against the Almighty.
Just one point more. The last half of Revelation 13 deals with the clever deceptions of the false prophet, by which he befools the earth dwellers into doing evil things contrary to the cause of God, and thus brings on the final crisis for all the world. As already stated, the ones thus deceived are the last generation of mankind, obviously the most sophisticated and most scientifically educated of all the long line of humanity—a most surprising situation.
Only one specific trick of deception is mentioned: he brings fire down from heaven in the sight of men, that is, in public. Many have thought of this as similar to the work of Elijah on Mount Carmel. But the text does not say that he prepares for this as a test; it simply declares that he does this in a public way, and afterward appeals to this work which he has done as a proof of his miraculous power. And the record seems to imply that this act is only one of several of similar character and for a similar purpose. Amazing acts are characteristic of this false prophet.
And the Bible speaks of them not as mere tricks or impostures, but as genuine signs or wonders, or "miracles," as in the King James Version.
But what is a miracle? Probably we should say that everything God does is "natural," or in accord with all of His basic laws for the universe. But from our limited human point of view, thousands of events which are commonplace to us, as X rays, radio, or guided missiles, would have seemed like genuine miracles to our grandparents. Our minds are so constituted that when even the most amazing event is repeated a few times, though no man of science can give a sensible explanation, we are inclined to class it as only according to "natural law," and not very wonderful after all. Almost any modern scientific event would be a "miracle" to us if it occurred only once, or if we saw it for the first time.
Benjamin Franklin is called the one who with his kite in a thunderstorm taught the world how to tame the lightnings. But no modern scientist knows what electricity is, or how light and other radiations are transmitted, or the why of gravitation. Willis R. Whitney, for many years in charge of the research work of General Electric, remarked, "The best scientists have to recognize that they are just kindergarten fellows playing with mysteries—our ancestors were, and our descendants will be."
Probably those of you who have read the preceding pages attentively will already have understood my point of view regarding these miracles of the false prophet. And I feel certain that when those two bombs were dropped on the cities of Japan in the summer of 1945, many Adventists in all parts of the world immediately thought of this text about calling down fire from heaven in the sight of men.
And why not? We are certainly living in the time of the end. And the Bible makes it very clear that the dominant world power (from the prophetic viewpoint) during this time-of-the-end period is the two-horned beast, alias the false prophet. We look around us in the world today and see the Occidental civilization of our time, headed by America, which seems to be the fufillment of the prophecy. And the spectacular scientific achievements of our day fit perfectly into the picture, whenever we can shake off the unholy hypnotic spell that these achievements have thrown over our minds and wake up to the solemn and terrifying fact that the resultant of them all is in the wrong direction, away from God and His truth. Of course, if any of my readers persists in thinking that the prevailing theories in biology, in geology, or in atomic physics are factual or in harmony with the basic principles of Christianity, I can have nothing more to say.
But if, as I believe, the dominant scientific thinking of our time tends in the wrong direction, we realize that we are witnessing another fulfillment. Nearly three quarters of a century ago Ellen G. White wrote:
"Thus the false science of the present day, which undermines faith in the Bible, will prove as successful in preparing the way for the acceptance of the papacy, with its pleasing forms, as did the withholding of knowledge in opening the way for its aggrandizement in the Dark Ages."—The Great Controversy, p. 573.
And we can now see furthermore how the amazing wonders, or "miracles," performed by the false prophet are slowly but surely deceiving the earth dwellers and causing them to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound is being healed.
* From The Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt. Copyright, 1954. Used by permission of Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc. (Return to text)
Read Chapter 7 — Babylon the Great
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